Last March, Gordon Campbell and Tourism minister Kevin Krueger unveiled a deal to build a major casino on the publicly owned lands adjacent to BC Place. Paragon Gaming of British Columbia, owned by Paragon Gaming of Las Vegas with a minority investment by longtime BC Liberal supporter Richard Turner, won the bidding process to develop the BC Place lands.
But information gleaned from Krueger by NDP critic Spencer Chandra-Herbert during Ministry Estimates debate casts doubt on the legitimacy of the bidding process.
According to Krueger the proposal call process took approximately four weeks in 2009: “the request for proposals for development of the west lands was made, I believe, in May 2009… by June 2009 it was obvious that Paragon’s was the most attractive proposal.” There were only two proposals. Paragon was selected in June.
Contrast that with a routine proposal call process for a similar sized project run by Partnerships BC. The Surrey Memorial Hospital proposal call is a three-stage affair involving a request for qualifications, evaluation, short-listing, a request for proposals from the shortlist, evaluation of the formal proposals, short-listing of three finalists, evaluation and final selection. The process is in its tenth month and final selection is not expected for several months
Sean Holman over at Public Eye has put together a more comprehensive timeline for the BC Place proposal call. It shows a two- stage process that lasted a total of… about 6 weeks.
Ten plus months for Surrey Memorial vs. three plus weeks for the BC Place Redevelopment project won by Paragon project: that’s barely time for a meet and greet, let alone a full analysis of the financial, structural, inter-jurisdictional and other aspects of the deal – you know, it’s called due diligence.
But what if there was another process, a formal or informal process that allowed Paragon to shape its proposal to match the proposal call, and a process that wasn’t available to other potential bidders?
In estimates Krueger admitted that ICBC chair Richard Turner, a partner in Paragon, arranged meetings between PavCo and Paragon. It’s unclear when those occurred, as Krueger has not yet released requested information about those meetings.
But a year before PavCo issued the proposal call another series of meetings with PavCo began that shaped the development and smoothed the way for the casino deal.
In January 2008, at the request of the Province, the city of Vancouver began a review of PavCo’s development needs with the purpose of amending the North East False Creek Plan to assist redevelopment of the BC Place lands. The goal was to bring amendments PavCo needed to go ahead with the redevelopment to the last Council Meeting before the civic election in October 2008.
According to the report that went to Council, project staff met “with PavCo representatives related to their specific proposal”. In fact PavCo funded a good part of the city process. In return PavCo secured two key amendments and one financial break.
The financial break drew most of the attention at the time of the decision. The city gave up development levies on the future commercial and residential development to take place on the BC Place owned lands. That meant less money for parks and schools to service all the new people who would live on site.
But in hindsight, the amendments that shaped what can happen on the site have become more important for understanding how the deal really took place.
One key amendment increased the commercial and residential zoned land in the Plan area to accommodate redevelopment needs. The second added a new land use to the Plan: a Major Casino. Here’s the wording of the amendment made to assist PavCo: “Council may allow sub-area zonings to include other cultural and recreational facilities, including a major art gallery and a major casino”.
How did the City policy makers, working hand in glove with PavCo know to include an amendment that would allow a major casino use on the site? That’s the big unanswered question.
I’d say, it looks like PavCo was anticipating a proposal involving a casino for its redevelopment project as early as September 2008 when the report to council was drafted.
And it is clear that only one group could make easy use of that amendment. Only one casino license holder in the city of Vancouver had a license that needed to be transferred to a new venue. As Minister Krueger put it in Estimates, everyone knew Edgewater would have to move along with its license.
No wonder Paragon was the only plausible bidder. What a set-up.
And if you want to track this story, Ross K over at the Gazetteer has been posting some very revealing information about the deal and the players.